The word legendary gets thrown around these days far too easily. Very few actually live up to the true definition of the word.
Tupac Shakur is undoubtedly one of those very few. He is to rap music what Bob Marley is to reggae, or what Elvis Presley is to rock music. Today marks the 20th anniversary of his tragic and premature death.
The motive behind his death remains shrouded in mystery and it remains unsolved to this day. But rather than dwell on the negatives we ought to celebrate and recognize some of the incredible music Tupac gave us during his relatively short career, so after much deliberation we’ve managed to compile a list of his 20 best tracks.
The track from the iconic album of the same name is certainly a stable in any self-respecting Tupac fans collection. In true Tupac fashion the track is filled with his now iconic brand of braggadocio filled gangster rap that has spawned hordes of imitators. The track also features one of Tupac’s frequent collaborators Big Syke, who appeared on four other tracks on the album.
Although Tupac is perhaps more famous for his hard hitting gangster rap, this was by no means all he had to offer. Tupac always was multi-faceted and capable of stepping out of his perceived comfort zone and more often than not the result was nothing short of historic. “Dear Mama” is an outpouring of love and deep respect for the trials and tribulations that Afeni Shakur went through while the young Tupac was growing up. “Dear Mama” is a truly timeless piece of music that has stood the test of time, and a definitely a track that resonates with many many people.
“Changes” arguably has to be one of Tupac’s most famous tracks, as it managed to traverse across many different genres and capture the hearts and minds of many people who were not even fans of rap music. The beat was a reinterpretation of a track released in 86’ titled “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby. However the scariest thing is that many of the things he mentions on the track still apply to this day, proving that humanity may not have advanced as much as we think it has.
If it’s not “Changes” then the most recognizable Tupac tune has to be “California Love”. The track was a collaboration of epic proportions with fellow legendary West Coast native Dr. Dre. The track was the first recorded after Tupac’s release from prison in 95’ and would go on to be his most commercially successful song. The beat is quintessentially West Coast and bares all Dre’s famous hallmarks. Unfortunately we would only get to see the two collaborate once more (“Cant C Me”).
“Until The End Of Time” is another great Tupac soundscape that breathes new life into a classic 80’s track (Mr Mister’s “Broken Wings”). The album from which the track was a lead single also titled Until The End Of Time was Tupac’s third posthumous album and was hugely anticipated at the time, going on to become the bestselling hip-hop album of 2001.
We once again revisit the iconic All Eyez On Me album. This track is a thoroughbred Tupac track. It’s the finest example of him dealing with one of his most frequent subject matters, which is his own self destruction and death. The track also sees Tupac feature alongside little known rapper Rappin’ 4-Tay whos appears on the third verse
Many have referred to this track as the greatest diss track ever made. The track was aimed at Notorious BIG, P Diddy and their Bad Boy record label. Lyrical content aside, what really got this track into the record books was the fact that Tupac was killed just three months after its release.
This track comes from his fourth posthumous album Better Dayz and was the last to be a double album. This track is easily one of the albums finest offerings and truly showcases Tupac’s penchant for social commentary, both the first verse and second verse are packed with gems that as relevant now as they were when they were recorded.
Despite the song title, this has nothing to do with an actual girlfriend. The track is an extended metaphor in which Tupac personifies his gun by referring to it as his girlfriend. This song was supposedly heavily influenced by the Nas track “I Give You Power“ from his second album It Was Written in which he does something similar.
This track was originally featured on Thug Life: Volume 1, which was the only album released by Thug Life, an early group started by Shakur. The king of hooks Nate Dogg doesnt disappoint as he delivers another incredible chorus. The song is particularly powerful now considering that both Nate and Tupac are both dead, it’s as if they’re asking us the question directly.
This track really displays Pac’s uncanny ability for storytelling. It was the second single released from his debut album 2Pacalypse Now, unlike 90% of rap music nowadays the track does not rely on a catchy hook or overproduced beat, it’s simply raw unadulterated lyricism as Tupac tells the story of a young impoverished pregnant teenage girl. This type of storytelling is something which we are severely lacking in much of today’s music.
We once again found ourselves back with another fantastic single that was released from Until The End Of Time. Although this track was not as successful as the lead single from the album, it still received wide critical acclaim. As the title suggests the lyrical content of the track sees Tupac narrating a letter he has written to his future children advising them on how to avoid the many pitfalls he has come across during his life.
This track comes from Pac’s second posthumous album R U Still Down? Rather than venture down the beaten path of social commentary and aggressive seriousness, this track sees Tupac talking about the difficulties he faces while in search of love.
Another absolute classic from the Better Dayz double album. The beat the spine chillingly brilliant vocals from Anthony Hamilton and of course Tupac’s vivid imagery, this track has everything you could possibly want. In this track Tupac imagines a special place that is reserved him and his people in heaven, we can only hope that this became a reality.
An early gem from the legend, it was the second single from his 93’ album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. The track has Tupac alongside the Digitial Underground, showing a more jovial side as they rap emphatically about their many conquests.
Once again another cut from the Better Dayz double album, this was the only track on the entire album that feature Tupac vocals that were Pre-Death Row. On this one we find Tupac in familiar territory as he vividly depicts the bleak reality faced by many impoverished young Black Americans.
Hip-Hop in general has had a very turbulent relationship with women, and the way women are represented for a very long time now. So it’s important to highlight the songs like this that uplift women and remind us where we all came from. “Keep Ya Head Up” is one of the most recognizable songs of its kind.
The track comes from Pac’s third album of the same name. The album was released while Pac was actually incarcerated and debuted at the top of the charts in America, thus making him the first artist to have a number 1 record while being in prison.
This is probably another one of his most famous songs. “Hail Mary” was the lead single from Tupac’s final album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. The hook again is easily one of the most quotable hooks in hip hop today. The track spawned a remix during the infamous Ja Rule and Eminem beef, with 50 Cent spitting Tupac’s verse.
The track was the sixth single released from the iconic All Eyez On Me album and came out shortly after Pac passed away. The track sees Tupac team up with long time collaborator Danny Boy who frequently provided the soulful vocal accompaniments on Tupac tracks. Thematically the track addresses those friends Tupac lost touch with due to his fortune and fame and his way of extending the olive branch and reminding them he’s always been there despite the fame.